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The lives of religious minorities have been plunged into chaos after the collapse of the Afghan civilian government and the Taliban takeover of the conflict-torn country last month.

After nearly 140 Sikhs and Hindus were unable to board an Indian military evacuation flight from Kabul airport following a suicide bombing near the airport, around 250 Sikhs and Hindus are still in Afghanistan.

They risk a bleak future under the extremist Islamist administration as there are no flights from the Taliban-ruled capital.

India had evacuated more than 600 people from the Afghan capital before the departure of the last American plane from Kabul airport. 67 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were among those killed, including parliamentarians Anarkali Kaur Honaryar and Narender Singh Khalsa.

the origins of the Sikh and Hindu community of Afghanistan go back several centuries, even before the founding of the country.Unsplash

Is it possible for a non-Muslim to be Afghan?

According to Inderjeet Singh, author of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of a Thousand Years, the origins of the Sikh and Hindu community in Afghanistan go back centuries, even before the founding of the country.

“The history of Sikhs in Afghanistan today dates back to Guru Nanak’s tenure in the region, which coincides with the birth of the religion itself in the 16th century,” Singh told DW. “The origins of the Hindu religion are much older.”

However, those in authority have portrayed them as outsiders or “outsiders”, relegating them to second-class status in their own nation, regardless of administration.

Puja Kaur Matta, an Afghan Sikh anthropologist currently residing in Germany, says “Sikhs and Hindus are locals, not foreigners.” When Taliban terrorists took control of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, his parents, who had roots in Ghazni and Kabul like many Sikhs and Hindus, immigrated to Europe.

Their population has fallen from 60,000 in 1992 to less than 300 today.

Also Read: India Hosts Taliban Welcome Meeting

Threats of segregation and harassment

Minorities held out hope for equal rights under the fallen civil administration, despite years of systemic and structural discrimination. However, two big assaults in 2018 and 2020 destroyed that optimism.

In the first suicide explosion, Khalsa’s father was killed and at least 25 Sikh pilgrims were killed in the assault on Gurdwara shrine in 2020. Both assaults were claimed by “Islamic State Khorasan” ( IS-K), a regional branch of the organization “Islamic State”. The gang was most recently responsible for the suicide bombing that killed at least 182 people at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Sikhs and Hindus fear that under the new Taliban administration they will be forced to wear yellow labels to indicate their non-Muslim identity, as they were in the past.

“For their beliefs, Sikhs and Hindus have been targeted,” Kaur adds.

“For fear of harassment, a generation of young people could not go to school. They couldn’t even bury their loved ones without risking being stoned in front of others. The word “home” evokes a sense of security, which many communities have long lost.

India’s conflicting policies have left them stranded.

As India prepares to welcome Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan, its uneven attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees has left hundreds stranded. The government’s position vis-à-vis asylum seekers varies considerably depending on whether it is based on ties to the nation from which they seek protection or on local politics.

New Delhi said this month it will provide shelter to Afghans of all faiths, not just Hindus and Sikhs. However, what the government says may not be representative of what is happening on the ground.

There is no openness as to how people are greeted since there is no protocol in place.

Aside from the uncertainty surrounding their refugee status, living in India is difficult. Delhi, home to the majority of the Afghan diaspora, is an expensive city. The majority of Afghans in this country do not have a work permit. It is not possible to survive on handouts.

Dreams of a secure future

Sikhs and Hindus fleeing Afghanistan want to establish a new life – a stable life – and give their children a bright future.

One of those children was Kaur Matta, now 29, when her parents chose to leave Afghanistan, opening up a world of possibilities for her. She now wants to start a dialogue about her neighborhood.

Even though a significant number of Sikhs and Hindus are leaving Afghanistan, some families have chosen to remain in the country as custodians of their places of worship – their heritage.

“We don’t have a place to live,” says Kaur Matta. If you are looking for an “Afghans Call Us Indians.” We are Afghans in India ”.

“All we want is a safe haven where we can live our lives without fear of persecution – a place where we can practice our faith, follow our traditions, work, and raise our children without fear of persecution.”

Keywords: Afghanistan, Indians, Hindus, Sikh, Origin of Sikhs in Afghanistan

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